Email has been one of the most popular communication channels since the 90s. A lot of people, just like me, can’t even remember a time without email. Email is a means of communication I myself would already deem to be traditional. Just like sending letters and pigeon post.
However, now, in 2020, even though email has been around for decades, many people still overestimate their communication skills over email. We’ve all been there before. You send a message with good intent, which gets completely misinterpreted and makes the receiver angry. Exactly the opposite of what you were trying to achieve.
For businesses that communicate with their customers via email, this can be a big problem. Especially when they are not aware of their own shortcomings.
So, what does this mean for your customer communication? Should you avoid using email altogether as a channel? The answer here is a simple no. But you should be able to know how to write business emails that reach their intended goal.
Do I really have to send this email?
Let’s be honest. A big chunk of the email we receive every day is unnecessary and a waste of time. Or even worse, it may be addressing a topic that you are uncomfortable with and is unpleasant. That’s why when you are considering emailing somebody, you should think of two things:
- Is this email really necessary?
- Is this email appropriate?
For both questions, you need to follow your gut feeling and common sense. Remember, this is not a phone call nor a chat conversation. Especially in business, you need to be aware of what is at stake. Your business relations are valuable, so handle them with care.
Especially when you are delivering bad news, you should consider skipping the email completely. It is simply hard to convey empathy or any emotion for that matter via text. A phone call, possibly followed up by a more formal email, will maybe be a better decision at times.
What you should avoid in business email
So, you have decided you want to send an email. Where do you start? First of all, we should be aware of the things not to write in business emails. Especially in customer service, we tend to use the same language we would use in phone conversations. But in an email, this language may not come across the same way.
Remember, in emails, you don’t have the benefits of friendly gestures, intonation or emphasis. This means that there is way more room for interpretation on the reader’s side. It’s important to leave as little room for that interpretation as you possibly can.
Avoid coming off as impatient
“As I mentioned earlier”, is one of those phrases that can rub a reader the wrong way. The phrase can give the impression that you are impatient or annoyed. Even when that’s not the case at all. Always be aware that the subject matter at hand may be easy for you, but not for the customer. This may be the first time they work with a service or product like yours, and anything that looks like impatience from your side can scare them away.
If at some point you do keep repeating yourself, try other methods. First, you can try to find another way to explain yourself via email. However, at some point, you may have to agree to switch to another way of communicating, such as a face to face meeting or a phone call.
Don’t apologize too much
When speaking on the phone, there are certain polite phrases such as “sorry to bother you”, that we often use. But unless you have something important to apologize for, it is better to refrain from using these types of phrases in emails. It is simply unnecessary and puts you in a weird place early on.
If you do find yourself having to apologize for contacting a customer, rethink if the email is really that important to send at all. Maybe it can wait, or maybe there are better ways of going about this situation.
When a customer points out a small mistake on your side, try another method. “Thanks for your feedback”, avoids the apology, but shows self-reflection and understanding. Also, it makes the customer feel good about themselves. Customers can feel uncomfortable having to point out issues. Thanking them for it will take away the discomfort.
Be careful with empathy in email
This tip also counts for phone conversations but rings even more true in business writing.
In order to empathize with customers, many of us tend to say, “I know how you feel.” Although you obviously mean well by saying this, it can rub your customers the wrong way completely.
Think about it. When you are frustrated or are feeling misunderstood, has somebody saying this to you every softened anything? Probably to the contrary, right?
Instead, try to speak in more actionable phrases, like, “I can imagine why this bothers you, so I am going to speak to my manager about it right away to find a solution”. Eventually, even the promise of undertaking action speaks louder than words.
Tone of voice in email
The above examples may seem a little exaggerated, but they make a difference. The smallest phrase in an email can simply throw the reader off. The tone of voice within an email can change with the shortest phrase.
What it all comes down to, is a clear understanding of the fact that there is a lot of room for interpretation when it comes to writing business emails. You can’t use any gestures or intonations to get your point across. Emoji may help you solve this from time to time, but finishing every sentence with a smiling emoji to set the tone is obviously not the solution.
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What you should try to write in business emails
So, enough about what things you should avoid while writing business emails. I wouldn’t leave you without inspiration for what things you can try to improve your business writing. Let’s get into a couple of examples below.
Make the purpose of your email loud and clear
An email works best when you write it with a clear purpose. This information, request, task or something else should be addressed as soon as possible in the email, right after the introduction and pleasantries. It’s important to be direct, clear and complete here so that the reader knows what the email is about as soon as possible.
When the receiver gets a lot of email every day, chances are he skims through a lot of them. If you fail to make your purpose clear at an early stage, you are asking to be overlooked.
Start off with purpose first, explain yourself in further detail later.
How to wrap up a business email
First of all, email as a communication channel has pros as well. There is a specific effective language you can use in an email, that would come of strange in a phone conversation.
“Looking forward to hearing from you soon”, is a great example of this. Sure, it’s something you could say on the phone, but it can also easily come off a little unnatural. In an email, though, it looks considerate and at the same time encourages further communication.
Be sure to always make an important distinction when using this phrase: do you really want to leave room for more questions from your customer? This is a case by case situation, so trust on your experience and gut instinct here.
Showing that you understand the customer’s issue
When your customer is upset because of a problem, you need to show that you care and understand their issues. A lot of difficult situations occur when a customer feels misunderstood.
Email is a great medium to do this the right way because you can take your time to make a good analysis and choose your words wisely. The customer won’t have the ability to interrupt your story, nor will you feel the pressure of finishing your story quickly. You have more than enough time to describe the issue, show understanding and present an actionable next step.
How to effectively structure your business emails
Now that you know what to write and what not to write, it is time to think of the way you structure your business emails.
Let’s start off with the first thing you should fill in: the subject line. This is an important one right off the bat because this is where you win over the attention of the receiver. With a bad subject line, your email may not even be opened in the first place. Let’s have a look at two examples, and decide which of the two subject lines is the most effective:
- “Important: Information needed to accelerate project X”
We can all agree number two is more effective, right? Still, at Trengo we mostly receive emails with subject lines that look like example number one. Most people tend to write an email first and then rush the subject line. However, without a strong subject line, you can’t highlight the importance of your message. Especially when your message is urgent and you would like to get a quick response, do yourself a favor here.
If this business email is especially important to you, for example in the case of writing to a big potential customer, ask your colleague to read the subject line and tell you what he thinks the message is about and how urgent it is.
Greeting and introduction
Now that we have the subject line down, it is time to start writing the actual email itself. We begin with the greeting the addressee. Figure out how formal or informal this should be, and write accordingly. Hugely important: make sure you are addressing the right person and actually know their name.
Now is the time for some small talk. You can exchange pleasantries, such as:
“It was nice speaking to you at last week’s conference”
“I really enjoyed the blog you posted on your LinkedIn yesterday”
Once you have that out of the way, it is time to address the purpose of the email. As discussed earlier, you have to get to this right after exchanging pleasantries. Be concise and clear so that the reader will know what to expect right away.
With the purpose clear, you can get into the specifics of your email. You can provide necessary background details and go into more depth.
But keep in mind, you want to keep your email as short as possible, in order for the reader to actually read the whole thing.
Be hard on yourself and ask yourself the question: “Does the reader really need this information?”
Call to action
Now, it’s time to request action. Unless your email was purely informative, chances are that you are sending this email with purpose. Especially when it is a business email. You may want the receiver to visit your website, to buy a product or to arrange a meeting.
Regardless, it’s important to be specific here and not leave any room for interpretation here. Just as with the purpose, make sure to be specific and concise here.
When closing off your email, thank the reader for their attention and exchange some more small talk. After that, close off with formal and respectful greetings such as “Best” or “Kind regards”.
When it comes to tone of voice and the formality of these emails, be aware that this is company policy. If you are the person running the company, then this is something you should think about for all of your employees. If you want to exude a strong brand message, the communication needs to be in line with this.
Software for writing better business emails
The title of this blog already gives this away, but in case you forgot, it is 2020. That means that there is software for literally everything. Yes, also when you need to write better business emails.
First of all, you can use grammar and spelling check software such as Grammarly to make sure that the entire email is written smoothly. Even if your language skills are top-notch, a typo can escape anyone’s attention.
Secondly, consider using a shared team inbox with your company. This makes anything you do concerning email a lot easier. This software comes with the ability to add quick replies so that you can use the perfect templates for many different occasions.
Also, a shared team inbox makes it easier to organize email. You can assign an email to colleagues, tag important messages and chat with team members within the inbox. This saves you a lot of time that you can spend on writing the perfect business email.
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